In situ experiments to reveal the role of surface feature sidewalls in the Cassie-Wenzel transition

Waterproof and self-cleaning surfaces continue to attract much attention as they can be instrumental in various different technologies. Such surfaces are typically rough, allowing liquids to contact only the outermost tops of their asperities, with air being entrapped underneath. The formed solid-liquid-air interface is metastable and, hence, can be forced into a completely wetted solid surface. A detailed understanding of the wetting barrier and the dynamics of this transition is critically important for the practical use of the related surfaces. Toward this aim, wetting transitions were studied in situ at a set of patterned perfluoropolyether dimethacrylate (PFPEdma) polymer surfaces exhibiting surface features with different types of sidewall profiles. PFPEdma is intrinsically hydrophobic and exhibits a refractive index very similar to water. Upon immersion of the patterned surfaces into water, incident light was differently scattered at the solid-liquid-air and solid-liquid interface, which allows for distinguishing between both wetting states by dark-field microscopy. The wetting transition observed with this methodology was found to be determined by the sidewall profiles of the patterned structures. Partial recovery of the wetting was demonstrated to be induced by abrupt and continuous pressure reductions. A theoretical model based on Laplace's law was developed and applied, allowing for the analytical calculation of the transition barrier and the potential to revert the wetting upon pressure reduction.